BULGARIA DURING WORLD WAR II
Upon the outbreak of World War II the Bulgarian government declared neutrality. Unlike in the case of the analogical step at beginning of World War I, this time the monarch and the ruling circles seemed determined to observe it. The lessons of the previous world war were too bitter to forget and there were no guarantees at all, as to the outcome of the new one. At the same time, Sofia was quite clear that the geopolitical position of the country would inevitably lead to strong pressure on Bulgaria for its involvement on the side of one of the belligerent powers and followed, in agonizing suspense, the intricate diplomatic maneuvering, which was being acted out around the Balkan stage. Despite its newly reconstructed troops Bulgaria was aware that their strength and their arms would not be enough to guarantee the security of the country, less so the attainment of the 'national ideals' - the restitution of the Bulgarian territories lost in 1913 and in 1918.
In the autumn of 1940, with the approval of all Great Powers, Bulgaria succeeded in retrieving, through negotiations, southern Dobrudja, which had been lost to Romania in 1913. This fostered an illusion that the territorial problem could be settled without Bulgaria's indispensable involvement in the fresh world conflict.
This illusion was soon blighted when the German Reich expansion reached the Bulgarian borders. Faced with choosing between military confrontation with Germany and accession to the Axis powers, the monarch and his government had Bulgaria join the fascist bloc on 1 March 1941. The public opposition to this decision was rather weak and this reaction was determined by one main psychological factor: the Soviet Union, which most Bulgarians used to identify with Russia - the country they had traditional liking for, had signed a friendship and non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany.
By the middle of 1941 the official propaganda had quite a lot to its credit - war with Germany averted, all lost territories successfully retroceded, following the Greeks and Yugoslavs surrendering under the jackboot of the Wehrmacht without a single drop of Bulgarian blood and, last but not least, official relations with the USSR maintained even after its invasion by Nazi Germany on 22 June 1941.
Even when the German aggression against the Soviet Union was already a fact, the Bulgarian monarch and his government continued to observe, before the public eye, their previously declared passivity course. This meant that Bulgaria would undertake to fulfil any assignments by the Axis only when it had tried all possible ways and means of declining them. As a matter of fact, Bulgaria was the only country in the Axis bloc whose ruling circles had firmly withheld their consent to the dispatch of even one single soldier to either the Eastern or any of the other fronts in the West. At the end of 1941, however, Bulgaria declared a 'token' war on the USA and Britain which was quickly turned into real combat by the Anglo-American aircraft. By 1943 the British and American bomber squadrons, known as 'flying fortresses', dumped their deadly load over Sofia and other Bulgarian towns time and again. The country's economy was set to work only for the German machinery of war. All roads, communications, airports and ports were placed at the Wehrmacht's disposal.
The Soviet Union and the United States, drifting into the war on the side of the anti-fascist bloc, put an end to all doubt as to the issue of the world conflict. The apparition of fresh national catastrophe was irresistibly acquiring distinct outlines. At this distressing historical juncture the BCP, acting on Stalin's instructions, took up initiatives defying the official administration. In this, it was undoubtedly aided by the confusion and passivity, which had taken hold of the good old parties associated with the rule of democracy.
As early as 26 June 1941, the BCP embarked upon a course of armed struggle against the monarchist government and its German allies. Mass guerrilla movement grew apace throughout the country. The guerrillas got down to destroying the statecraft infrastructure, the German military objectives in Bulgaria and the industry, contributing its output to the Wehrmacht. Bulgaria, once again, became the only country in the fascist bloc which had allowed armed resistance to unfold. It was obviously not of the proportions known for the guerrilla movements in the other German occupied countries in Europe.
With respect to political initiatives, in the middle of 1942 the BCP put forward the Comintern idea of 1935 of a united front (in Bulgaria it was called Fatherland front). It was meant to unite all democratic forces fighting against the government, which had committed the country to Nazi Germany. The initial wavering of the leaders of the senior democratic parties had soon been over-come by the war taking a favorable turn, especially after the major allied victories at Stalingrad, Kursk, El Alamein, and in southern Italy. In August 1943 the BCP, the BPAU left wing, the left social democrats and the Zveno political group all joined in the Fatherland front. August also brought tidings of the death of Tsar Boris III, the figure unifying all absolute monarchy-supporting forces. The heir to the throne, Simeon II, had not yet come of age and the throne was taken by a regency. The Bulgarian germanophile bourgeoisie, bewildered and precarious as it could be, was unable to suggest an outcome of the crisis and was desperately groping for palliative let's-patch-up-the-situation answers to its problems, ranging from vague promises for democratization of political life at home to indecisive attempts at being in contact with the allies.
In the summer of 1944 the Soviet army was approaching the Balkan Peninsula. In August the strong Nazi force in the vicinity of lassi-kishinev was encircled and defeated. On 23 August 1944 Romania quit the fascist bloc and declared war on Germany. Tanks with the red five-pointed star branded on them, loomed up before hushed Bulgarian patrols on sentry-go up in Dobrudja.
Through force of circumstances three days later, on 26 August 1944 the Central committee of the Bulgarian communist party (CC of BCP) took a decision to rise an armed revolt in conjunction with the other political parties and groups in the Fatherland front. Thereafter events developed at breakneck speed. A new government, composed of right-wing agrarians, democrats and populists was appointed on 2 September - the last attempts of the ruling bourgeois top crust which was desperately trying to keep its power through cosmetic cabinet reshuffles. The Fatherland front withheld its support from the new government.
On September 5, the Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria and on September 8, the Red Army invaded the territory of Bulgaria. The Bulgarian army had been ordered to offer no resistance. The Russians occupied the northeastern end of the country and its two major harbors - Varna and Burgas. In this situation, on the eve of September 9, Sofia garrison detachments under the command of Zveno-supporting officers, acting under orders of the Fatherland front, entered strategic key points in Sofia, overthrew the government and placed the ministers under arrest. On September 9, an announcement was made that a Government of the Fatherland front with Kimon Georgiev as prime-minister had been installed in power.
At first, Kimon Georgiev's government had no particular problems on the domestic political front. It had no difficulty in establishing its rule and order all over the country with the help of the Zveno-infiltrated military and the guerrilla detachments set up by the BCP. The presence of the Soviet Red army in some parts of the country had a disheartening impact on most of the former regime supporters. The foreign political situation of the country was far more complex. On September 10, the Fatherland front government declared war on Germany and its allies.
Nazi Germany hastily sent small divisions to invade Bulgaria at several points of entry but these were quickly repulsed. The Bulgarian army divisions stationed in Macedonia found themselves in a much more difficult situation. German troops had closed round them, while their command was being nonplused by the high treason of some staff officers who had deserted to the German side. By contrast with an analogical situation involving Italian troops on the Balkans the year before, the Bulgarian divisions did not surrender but fought their way back to the old Bulgarian borders. The Bulgarian air units gained special distinction in this operation. Flying the five hundred war-planes ready to hand, the Bulgarian eagles were making hundreds of sorties a day. Their massive air-raids eventually succeeded in crippling the German forces on that front.
In the beginning of September three Bulgarian armies - the First, the Second and the Fourth, in total some 500,000-strong, launched an offensive against Yugoslavia in two lines of advance - Sofia-Nis and Sofia-Skopje. The Supreme command assigned them the strategic task to block the way of the German troops withdrawing from Greece. Within a month the Bulgarian army, at the price of thousands sacrificing their lives, succeeded in liberating Macedonia, southern and eastern Serbia. The German troops which had been cut off in Greece, gave themselves up to the British. First Bulgarian army 130,000-strong, continued on its march to Hungary. There, between 6 and 19 March 1945, it engaged in epic battles; it drove off the Germans attempting to launch a counter-offensive and then, went on the offensive itself. By April 1945 First Bulgarian army had entered the territory of Austria. On the day of the capitulation of Nazi Germany, it liberated the town of Klagenfurt. There, the soldiers of First Bulgarian Army and the British Eighth Army established contact. The Bulgarian-British encounter at this Austrian 'Elbe' was marked by a friendly football match between the two army teams which drew one all.
The participation of the Bulgarian armies in the final stage of World War II and the excellent performance of their extremely efficient live force against the Germans and their Hungarian, Croatian and Albanian allies, improved considerably the international image of the country. This enabled Bulgaria to live at greater ease to see the peace conference at which it would no longer be looked upon as an ordinary satellite to the fascist bloc. Sure enough the Paris treaty of peace which was signed in 1946, made provision for the territorial integrity of Bulgaria within its borders of 1939 and acknowledged the annexation of Dobrudja of 1940.
- Translated from the book "Bulgaria Illustrated History" by Maria Nikolotva
- Bulgarian text by Bojidar Dimitrov, PhD.
- Published by BORIANA Publishing House, Sofia, Bulgaria
text used here with permission from translator, save modifications for noding